Nov. 16, 2012— -- Craigslist is the popular marketplace website where you can find anything. Even a baby.
After years of taking fertility medication to try to have a baby, Tracey and Dan Citron of Minnesota decided to post an ad on Craiglist, saying they were interested in adopting a child. Tammy Nelson, a mother-to-be, responded to their ad, and now they have a healthy little boy named Ben.
"People do sort of give us a look, like, 'on Craigslist? How can that be?'" Tracey Citron said.
People have been using classified ads in newspapers to find adoptive children for years, but now prospective parents across the country are taking the unusual steps of connecting directly with potential birth mothers online. Yahoo Shine! reporter Piper Weiss has been investigating the world of private adoption online for months. Read more about Weiss' story here.
"Craigslist and other online resources put the power back in parents and birth moms' hands to some degree," Weiss said. "It allows them to connect with each other, potentially, but also it forces them to be their own filter and kind of be their own experts in the matter. There are a lot of risks and a lot of reward to that."
But it's not as simple as posting an ad and going to pick up a child. Prospective parents can only advertise directly to birth mothers in a handful of states and once connected, they still need support from an adoption agency or an attorney.
"There's a whole legal process," Dan Citron said.
"Doesn't mean you just get to bring that baby home when it's born," Tracey added.
The most obvious risk with advertising for adoption online is scammers, who can take advantage of vulnerable would-be parents.
Megan and Steve in Buffalo, N.Y., learned the hard way. After successfully adopting their son Aiden, they wanted to give him a brother or a sister, so they started advertising online. They were contacted by a woman named Kimberly Persuitte, who claimed to be pregnant.
"It was a bit sketchy because there was so much flip-flopping in between," Megan said. "They wanted to be independent and they wanted to support themselves and then half an hour later we would get a phone call, like, 'You know what, we really need that $50 for gas and by the way I'm going to need that weekly because my doctor's office is really far away.'"
Barb Sternberg , Megan and Steve's adoption coordinator, Googled Persuitte's name and found she had been convicted of sending bad checks, identity theft and burglary.
"When somebody is pushing money, money, money, I needed it yesterday, it's instantly a concern," Sternberg said. "I always tell my clients the second someone starts asking for money in the first conversation, that's a big red flag."
On Sternberg's advice, Megan and Steve broke off contact with Persuitte and said they never gave her money, but the emotional roller coaster of hoping for a baby and then losing it took its toll. Megan said she sometimes gets discouraged about the process. They are still looking, and have a profile on Adoptimist.com, a website were hopeful adoptive parents can connect with potential birth mothers.
"There are great days and then there's not great days," she said, through tears. "And the things that keeps you going is knowing that it has happened and it will."
The Citrons had the same optimism during their search for a child and went above and beyond to try to advertise themselves as prospective parents. They designed their own website, got their own 800 number for potential birth mothers to call, and even plastered their car with a personal ad.
But after spending so much time, energy and money, they said nothing seemed to work. So they decided to try something different and turned to Craigslist. Tracey said she would start every morning by having a cup of coffee and placing her ad online. After about six weeks, she said she got a call on a June day, her birthday, from Tammy Nelson. She was looking for a way out.
"When I Googled it, I put adoption in Phoenix and the first was a Craigslist for Dan and Tracey, it was literally that quick," Nelson said. "I said, 'Hi, I'm pregnant, and I need help and this is the situation, what do you think?' And she said, 'I'm really happy you called us.' It was perfect."
Nelson said she was stuck in a nightmare, financially dependent on her husband, who she says was physically abusive, and already raising her son, Ryder.
"I remember one time feeding my son the dust out of the Rice Krispies box," she said. "It was the last bowl of cereal we had and I didn't know where our next meal was going to come from. I was literally living out of a chicken coop that was converted to an apartment, a house. Those were the kinds of living situations his father had put us in."
But her nightmare became worse when Nelson said her husband forced her to become pregnant again.
"You hate yourself a lot for it because you feel like you should have a connection with something that's naturally inside you and that motherly instinct should just kick in and that you would want to be with your kid," Nelson said. "I felt guilty that I never had that connection."
For Nelson, abortion wasn't an option. She felt that giving the child up for adoption was the right thing to do.
Now two years have passed since Ben was born, and Nelson has started rebuilding her life. She has a new fiance, Patrick. She has been watching Ben grow up through the Citrons' Facebook updates.
"It is hard seeing Ben be able to do stuff that I was never able to afford for my first son, like gymnastics," Nelson said. "I think every parent wants the best they can do for their kid. I'm happy Ben has that, but it also kind of shows my inadequacies with my own son."
Nelson has had little direct contact, seeing Ben only one in person since he was born. "Nightline" helped the family reunite briefly. But the awkwardness pales in comparison to the overwhelming feeling Tracey Citron and Nelson share: gratitude. Nelson said her hopes for Ben have been fulfilled.
"Just that he has a family that loves him and he has all the opportunities in his life," Nelson said, then turning to the Citrons, "you guys have already done that"